2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 First Drive: Putting The Edge On

It's an inevitable vehicular sequence, an automotive tale as old as time. New sports car hits the streets and, a year later, the faster, crazier, wingier special edition comes along to make that first version look just a bit soft. Then, after another 12 months or so, the super-special edition drops, a crowning achievement until the progeny of the line is itself rebooted, thus beginning the cycle anew.

In such a way the release of the new, $106,000 Z06 flavor of the C8 Corvette is less than surprising – if 12-months tardy thanks to the pandemic) – but don't be so quick to write it off as cliche. Chevrolet's new 'Vette evolves what was very good into something utterly sublime.

Ever since the Corvette was introduced in 1953, the story has really been about the motor. Each iteration of the venerable series of V8s has always been a heck of a thing in its applicable decade. However, when it came to the launch of the C8, the story wasn't so much about the engine itself as its placement.

Revving to the Moon

The C8, of course, was the first mid-engined Corvette to hit the market. As such, talk about that motor location stole the show. Now that we've all had a few years to get used to the angularly distinctive new 'Vette, with the Z06 we can go back to talking about the engine proper.

Speak loudly, though, because it can be pretty loud. This is the new LT6, a 5.5-liter V8 that puts down a ridiculous 670 horsepower. No, it doesn't have a turbocharger or a supercharger, nor is that number boosted by any sort of electrical motors or the like. This is a good ol' American, naturally aspirated V8.

How does it get that much power, then? By revving to the moon. The LT6 makes peak power at a remarkable 8,400 RPM, just a couple ticks short of the 8,600 RPM redline. That sky-high rotational speed is enabled by a flat-plane crankshaft, a distinctive engine configuration often used on race-ready motors. The symmetrical design of that crank means the engine can get away with less internal counterbalancing, thus enabling a higher rev-limit without spinning itself to pieces.

One of the best-sounding engines, period

However, tighter tolerances and more advanced design are required to keep the engine from instead shaking itself to pieces. That's why each LT6 features combustion chambers and intake ports computer-machined and laser-scanned for precision, and everything is hand-assembled by one person, who signs their name on the intake.

Yes, this is a Chevrolet.

The result is the single most powerful naturally aspirated production V8 ever. Anywhere. It's also among the best sounding. If the C8 ushered in a new era of the Corvette looking like never before, with the Z06 it now has a banshee wail like nothing else. You need only press the Engine Start button to get a healthy taste. Corvette engineers designed what they call a "startup bark," about a second's worth of extra valve overlap and wide-open exhaust that will be perfect for making people jump at your next local Cars & Coffee.

Four very shouty pipes

That exhaust is new, too. It's a wholly different design, with quad tips all exiting from the centerline of the car. Valves inside determine whether exhaust goes through the outboard mufflers, mounted inside the bumper to either side, or straight through the center pipes. This isn't radically different than the active exhaust on other Corvettes, but here the valves can be modulated to provide a blend of muffler and straight-pipe sound. And, if all that weren't good enough, the thing weighs 20 pounds less than the Stingray's muffler.

The LT6 makes 180 more ponies than the Stingray's 490 and you can't put that much extra power through the same drivetrain without some tweaks. The eight-speed, dual-clutch transmission itself is largely unchanged, but the clutches have been reinforced to handle the additional twist. The hubs have been strengthened and, to take advantage of all those extra revs, the final drive ratio was shortened by 7% to a sprightly 5.56:1.

No tread, plenty of grip

This helps the 0-60 time drop to a remarkable 2.6 seconds, but there are a number of other factors at play here, too. Opt for the Z07 package and you get bigger, stickier Michelin Sport Cup 2 R ZP tires, which have so little tread they'll probably earn you a raised eyebrow at your next vehicle inspection. That extra grip helps the car hold 1.22G on the skidpad. 

You can even opt for a set of Carbon Revolution carbon-fiber wheels. They save 41 pounds of critical unsprung mass. Less unsprung mass means the suspension has less work to do, which means it does a better job of keeping those wheels on the ground and you headed in the right direction.

Those are the important tweaks, but the Z07 also includes a healthy aerodynamic package with a giant, sweeping rear wing and some hyper-aggressive extensions onto the front fascia. People will see you coming, friend. Thanks to the shape of that wing, which ducks down in the middle, you'll still be able to see them, too. Rearward visibility in the Z06 is surprisingly solid, doubly so if you opt for the digital rear-view mirror.

The dashboard still feels like an afterthought

On the inside, the Z06 can be equipped with a number of carbon fiber trim pieces to add an extra bit of flare to an already unfortunately busy interior.

My first experience in the Z06 was on the street, winding through the countryside north and west of Pittsburgh International Raceway. My car had the Cup 2 tires and the temperatures outside were barely above 50, with rain threatening, so suffice to say I wasn't too aggressive to start.

More time to refresh myself with that interior, then, which as I mentioned I find extremely unfortunate. There's still that obvious afterthought of a row of buttons running between the seats, perched up high on a wall of Soviet proportions. It looks awful and it makes the armrest extremely uncomfortable for the passenger to use.

This 'Vette loves to tramline

The Corvette's squircle steering wheel is the same as before, though now augmented by yet more carbon fiber. I confess I am not a big fan of this, either, but thankfully the steering ratio is quick enough you won't really ever need to move your hands away from the leather-wrapped grips on the sides.

Seated down low and reclined like in any Corvette, I made my way out of town to find more open roads. It wasn't long before I noticed the extreme tramlining. This is when a car wants to follow every painted line and crease on the road. In this regard, the Z06 is about as bad at it as anything I've ever driven. That's probably largely thanks to the ultra-stiff sidewalls on the Cup 2 tires but, regardless of the cause, a firm grip on the wheel is warranted.

In Tour mode, with the suspension at its most cushy, the Z06 isn't exactly punishing, though I wouldn't call it comfortable. Dial things up to Sport or all the way to Track, though, and get ready to hear some complaints from your passenger.

A truly delightful howl

Downshift a few times, though, and you won't be able to hear them any longer. This is especially true if you have the hard-top convertible. Drop the rear window by a few inches and the sound of that LT6 fills the cabin in a truly delightful way. It is addictive. Your neighbors and most other people in your home county will soon learn to hate you. All the more reason to take it to the track, then.

My afternoon was spent dodging rain clouds at the expansive Pittsburgh International Race Complex, a facility formerly known as Beaverun (I can't imagine why they renamed it), which actually served as one of the primary test locations for Z06 development.

It's a big, fast, challenging track with lots of off-camber turns, hidden apexes everywhere and a set of steel guardrails waiting to punish any mistake, separated from the asphalt by a ribbon of slippery, wet grass. A delightful spot for a 670-horsepower supercar on near-slicks, then.

The edginess is back

Getting up to speed for the first time, it was immediately apparent that the Z06 fixes what, for me, was the biggest foible of the new Stingray: it just felt a bit soft. Not quite lazy, it was pretty clear that it was designed to be a sort of entry-level mid-engined sports car for generations of Corvette lovers used to the comforting dynamics of a big, heavy engine up front.

With the Z06, the edginess is back. It darts to the apex and holds a line like a surgeon with an obsidian scalpel. The feel is addictive. And the sound... good lord the sound. The Z06 scream is a true delight, reward enough for the most humbling of track days, and enough for me to have genuine second-thoughts about this whole EV revolution thing.

The new Z06 is a crowning achievement. Sure, it's familiar and, in many ways, predictable, but with these sorts of cars it's less about the inevitability of their existence and more about the quality of their implementation. I still don't love the look, but the way this thing sounds and feels and performs is top-shelf. If you can swing it, and don't mind some sacrifices on the street, the Z06 is the one to get.